Stage Set for 2012 AMA Supercross

2012 AMA SX

The 2011 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season was widely considered to be the greatest of all time, following an intense battle for the championship that was contended by five riders throughout the 17-race season.

Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed, Ryan Dungey, James Stewart and Trey Canard each shared victories, keeping stadiums throughout the country filled to capacity. In the end, it was Villopoto who prevailed, leading the points for 15 weeks, and outlasting every challenge from his rivals to claim his first premier class title following two years marred by injury and illness.

For 2012, those five riders return, ready to rekindle the magic of last season, while many of the sport’s other recognizable names also enter the season looking to throw their names into the mix. The parity-driven championship last season was arguably the greatest season ever in the 37-year history of Monster Energy Supercross, and with a deeply-talented field of riders prepared to attack the tracks inside the most renowned stadiums in America, that trend should reach even greater heights.

The most poignant element of this season’s championship is a result of the amount of hardware achieved by the competitors ready to battle for the world title. For the first time since 1991, four past champions will take to the track. In fact, since the 2008 season, Reed, Stewart, Dungey and Villopoto have secured the past four titles, respectively.

While the veteran duo of Reed and Stewart have amassed Hall of Fame careers, establishing themselves in the upper half of the all-time wins list and garnering multiple championships, Villopoto, Dungey and Canard have taken the sport by storm since making the move into the Supercross class. Villopoto has grabbed numerous wins in three seasons of competition, while Dungey made history in 2010 when he became just the second rookie in history to win the title. As for Canard, his rookie campaign last season was highlighted by three impressive victories, but resulted in a premature end after he suffered a heartbreaking injury.

As a result, the sport is in the midst of a strong youth movement, led by this trio of young guns. However, despite the success of their younger rivals, both Reed and Stewart have shown that neither rider is ready to give way to their hard-charging successors. The respective motivation of each rider has led to exceptional racing and quite possibly the most competitive era the sport has ever seen.

Beyond the competition, 2012 is being tabbed as a significant season of change for many of the sport’s biggest names. Most notably are the respective moves of both Stewart and Dungey. After three years with San Manuel Yamaha, Stewart made a high-profile move to Joe Gibbs Racing and the Toyota/Yamaha/JGRMX stable, while Dungey will compete professionally on a machine other than Suzuki for the first time in his young career, rejoining his mentor and team manager Roger DeCoster at Red Bull KTM.

James Stewart says: "I am excited about joining the Gibbs racing family. My goal in supercross is to pass Jeremy McGrath’s record of 72 supercross wins. I am more than half way there, and look forward to realizing that dream during my time with JGR."

Ryan Dungey says: "I like the way that KTM has backed Roger since he made the switch last year, and I appreciate KTM’s goal of working hard to develop their race team to earn championships. I am making this switch to win races and work toward getting that (first) championship for KTM."

Additionally, Reed will embark on his second year as a team owner and rider after an extremely successful first season. As the 2011 championship wore on, Reed received greater support from American Honda for his TwoTwo Motorsports/Bel-Ray Racing effort, and one would expect that with even greater support from the successful brand for 2012, Reed will be that much better than a year before.

As for Canard, the highs and lows he experienced in 2011 will be sure to carry over into his sophomore season. Following two separate fractures of his previously-broken left femur in the span of eight months, Canard learned to appreciate the success he achieved in competition during his rookie season. They say there is no better motivator in the sport than being forced to watch from the sidelines, and Canard is a true testament to that. With a return to American Honda set for the upcoming season, Canard will be arguably the most eager rider to take to the track come January, and will look to make a statement early.

Trey Canard says: "Injuries are part of our sport. But to be there and see everything that was going on was tough. Seeing the championships decided and realizing that I had no part of that was tough. But you know what? It’s also motivating to go there, because you realize how bad you missed it. It adds fuel to the fire to get back as soon as I can."

However, after one of the most successful single seasons in AMA history in which Villopoto captured the Monster Energy Supercross and AMA Motocross crowns, in addition to leading Team USA to a seventh straight win at the Motocross of Nations, all eyes will be on the champion, who capped off the 2011 season by claiming the largest purse in the history of the sport with the Monster Energy Cup "Monster Million."

Since making his move into the elite level of supercross in 2009, Villopoto experienced a slow, yet upward progression. The trials and tribulations he endured as a result of his misfortunes built a mature and fierce competitor that learned to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. In 2011, Villopoto took the championship by the horns, and was rewarded for it. With early access to his 2012 Monster Energy Kawasaki machine, Villopoto has already secured a leg up on the competition that he hopes will play to his advantage come January. He will look to become the first rider since Ricky Carmichael, in 2005 and 2006, to win back-to-back Monster Energy Supercross titles.

Following his Monster Energy Cup win, Ryan Villopoto says: "It’s pretty unreal. I’m happy we were able to pull it off. To back it up next year would be hard, so if we do, it would be great."

Combine these five superstars with the long list of talented challengers like Andrew Short, Kevin Windham, Davi Millsaps, Justin Brayton, Ivan Tedesco, Mike Alessi, Brett Metcalfe, Jake Weimer and Josh Grant, to name a few, and you have what is arguably the most talented field of riders to ever line up on a starting gate.

The star-studded group of premier-class competitors are ready to duke it out over the course of 17 races in search of a World Championship. History has shown that anything can happen in the sport of supercross, and last season was a true indication of that. With four World Champions, eight Supercross Lites Regional Champions, and a total of 15 different riders who have won a Monster Energy Supercross race in either division, the extremely stacked field of riders set to enter Angel Stadium of Anaheim on January 7, is unlike anything ever seen before.

Monster Energy Supercross is at an all-time high in regards to parity, competitiveness, depth of talent, and overall speed of competition. The likes of the "Big Five" from one year ago have helped take the sport to new heights, ushering in a new era for the greatest spectacle in racing. It’d be hard to find a way to build on the "Greatest Season Ever" of 2011, but it would be no surprise of anyone in the industry if the competition in 2012 is an unpredictable as it is setting up to be.

For the first time in the sport’s history, SPEED will broadcast live coverage from the following 11 races: Anaheim Race 1, Phoenix, San Diego, Arlington, Atlanta, St. Louis, Daytona, Indianapolis, Toronto, Seattle and Las Vegas. Additionally, CBS Sports will provide next day coverage at Los Angeles, Oakland, Anaheim Race 2, Houston, New Orleans and Salt Lake City. Fans should check local TV listings for additional details.

The 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season gets underway in just a matter of weeks, from Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 7.